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Hospitality

To Aid Displaced Residents, City Eases Provision On Market Street Hotels

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Oct 17, 2018
More Wilmington hotel rooms could be open for area residents who were displaced by Hurricane Florence.

The city of Wilmington recently notified four Market Street hotels, which have been placed under a court order, that it would not seek legal action related to a provision prohibiting the hotels from renting to locals if they take in residents displaced by the storm, according to a news release.

Over the past several years, the city of Wilmington has filed nuisance abatement actions in civil court against the four area hotels in the Market Street corridor, said Deputy City Attorney Meredith Everhart. Those hotels include Budgetel Inn, 4903 Market St.; Red Carpet Inn Wilmington, 4118 Market St.; The Carolinian Inn, 2916 Market St.; and AmeriStay Inn, 5001 Market St., she said.

The nuisance abatement actions were resolved by a consent judgment in which the hotels agreed to a series of conditions, “including that they would not rent to individuals with local addresses,” Everhart explained.

“Not renting to locals is a best practice in the hotel/hospitality industry because renting to locals can be linked to an increase in drug activity and prostitution,” she added.

Wilmington City Manager Sterling Cheatham, however, received information during the past week that some local hotels have been refusing to rent rooms to residents because “the hotels were worried that the city would take legal action against them for renting to locals,” Everhart said.

“I personally contacted either the owners or managers on duty at all four of the hotels the city has judgments against this [past] weekend, and I informed them that the city will not seek to enforce that provision of the consent judgment against them in this specific situation …,” Everhart said.

This is on the condition that the person trying to rent a hotel room has proof of being displaced from the hurricane or is receiving assistance from FEMA or Red Cross to obtain short-term housing because of the storm, she added.

City officials said in the release that this a temporary measure to help open up more options for local residents needing a place to stay because of impacts from the storm.

"Assisting our citizens who have been devastated by Hurricane Florence is a top priority for the city of Wilmington,” said Cheatham in the release.

Two of the hotels that are part of the consent judgment are participating in FEMA's Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA) program, which is a sheltering option using participating hotels or motels to help fill a gap until a person impacted by the storm identifies other short or long-term housing solutions, according to FEMA's September news release about TSA.

TSA was made available by FEMA following Hurricane Florence to assist those who have a primary residence in multiple North Carolina counties, including New Hanover, Pender and Brunswick counties, according to the release.

The Budgetel Inn and Red Carpet Inn were two of five Wilmington hotels identified Wednesday on FEMA’s list of hotels in North Carolina that are taking part in the program.

“It’s voluntary for hotels to participate in the TSA program,” Darrell Habisch, a spokesman for FEMA, said Tuesday. “It’s entirely up to them.”

More hotels are participating in the TSA program, he added. A person eligible for the program will present a registration number to the hotel. FEMA will pay the hotels directly; however, it’s up to the program participants to make their own reservations, he said.

The list of hotels and motels participating in TSA will be updated as they come online, Habisch said.

The city stated in the release that it also turned to the Wilmington and Beaches Convention and Visitors Bureau to help notify those four Market Street hotels that legal action would not be taken by the city in this case.

"The CVB was not involved in the decision, however, at the city’s request, we will share the ... information with lodging partners," Connie Nelson, spokeswoman for the Wilmington CVB, said in an email.

Nelson also noted that more Wilmington hotel rooms, in general, should be opening up this month.

"Based on last week’s lodging availability poll, more rooms were to become available by mid-October," Nelson said in an email. "This is likely due to a combination of relief workers leaving the area, residents returning home or finding long-term housing options or rooms becoming available following repairs."

Greater Wilmington Business Journal Assistant Editor Cece Nunn contributed to this report.
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